Category Archives: Clients on the move

The magic of Bhutan – Savitha Subramaniam, The Wanderers

Valleys of Bhutan

Albeit a little late to sit down and pen my thoughts about Bhutan, I had no one else to blame but me – simply because Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragons still had ‘that’ effect – which had me at loss for adjectives about the place. That, and ofcourse, the post vacation hangover – which translates into getting back into the routine.

 

But as I sit down to pen this blog post, my mind is flooded with the images of Bhutan – The land of the Thunder Dragon; The country which measures the happiness of its citizens ; One of the claimants to the title- Shangri-la! Anyone who visits this tiny Himalayan kingdom nestled between the two Asian giants (India and China) would be blown away by its beauty, culture and serenity.

 

As someone who believes that travel is an experience, a journey and not just visa stampings I take a lot of efforts to plan my vacations. It’s important that the travel is enjoyable and appealing to the varied tastes of my husband, my two kids and myself. Vacations and destinations have always been very close to my heart – simply because I feel that it is escapism from the normal rigours and the highlight should be fun filled family time.

 

And, lo behold came Wanderers – who understand the kind of traveller you are, your expectations, budgets and adds their own expert advice to it. And in this case, I had Alifiya – my little vacation genie, if I could call her that! With the Wanderers, the destination holds a close thread to their heart. And the magic of the country begins from the moment they sit across and bring the country alive with their words.

 

Bhutan is awe inspiring from the moment you start flying over the Himalayas and land into a breathtaking valley. I felt like applauding the pilot for that amazing flight. The itinerary was not too rigid and we were ready to put our feet up and enjoy.

Butter paint - Taktsang Monastery

Due to weather vagaries we couldn’t do the hike to Taktsang monastery. But the trips to Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Bumthang and Trongsa exposed us to the beauty of this nation and their culture. And the view of Taktsang left us in awe! The hypnotic quality that the place possesses is something that the guide books could never do justice.

And of course, we had a fantastic guide and a driver – which made the trip all the more pleasurable. Extremely helpful and resourceful, they knew the ins and outs of the land and little quaint details which I’ve believed is very important to making your trip memorable. Excellent hotels and I would recommend the Kyichu properties which definitely gets thumbs up from us! Indian vegetarian food is available at most good hotels and resorts. And what helps is also the fact that the Bhutanese have lot of regards for Indians and it feels nice to see their warm hospitality.

 

Travel books, magazines, blogs and websites don’t do justice to any place. Because, if you have to feel the magic of the land, you need to pack your bags and head out. Let the country envelop you in its folds…let the magic of the monasteries and the snow capped mountains mesmerise you.

 

Simply put – you must visit the country to enjoy it.
Bhutan is a jewel in our neighbourhood. You don’t need a Visa to travel to Bhutan from India.  Between penning my thoughts and going back to the captured images, I’m promoting Bhutan as a destination to all my friends. And if a tailor-made trip is what you have in mind, then the Wanderers is your destination.


Beach bumming at Culebra, Puerto Rico by Joe Varghese

Much as we had heard of Puerto Rico, not much was known about the island of Culebra. The only thing we knew was that, till the recent past, it was used as a target by the U.S. Navy. For years, we have driven by the U.S Naval Academy in Annapolis and the Destroyers and Submarines in Baltimore Harbor. I could imagine the big guns booming and the projectiles flying towards that tiny landmass in the Caribbean. How would it be to stand on the very same beach that had endured the mighty firepower of the Naval fleet for years, we asked ourselves ! The answer was three hours away. It was an early morning flight to Puerto Rico, landing at San Juan International Airport. Puerto Rico is one of the better countries in the region, with financial and political support from Uncle Sam. This is especially true for San Juan, where the infrastructure and lifestyle is almost like that of the US. Getting out of the airport, renting a car, and driving toward Fajardo on the East coast, was a cinch. We waited at a tiny little airport to catch a plane to Culebra. I don’t know if one can call it an airport.

Another way of describing it would be a single building with a huge parking lot, on which teensy-weensy airplanes landed and took off. When the time comes, you walk up to the plane, climb in through the back door (just like you would climb into a car) and dump your bags in the back. The plane can seat about 10 people, including the pilot. Is it too hot in the plane? Just crack open the window a wee bit! On-board refreshments ? Sure I just reach into your backpack and pull out the munchies you had bought at the airport. If you are lucky, you could call shotgun and sit next to the pilot. Culebra was half an hour away, and our eyes were riveted to the window as we passed the beautiful beaches of mainland Puerto Rico, flew over the sea with its little islands and boats, till we saw the mountains of Culebra looming in the distance. It is kinda noisy in the plane, so conversations may be limited. Every once in a while the plane may hit an air-pocket, so you have to be careful with your drink, if any.

The plane has to maneuver between two mountain peaks during its descent, which can make some people nervous. We landed at the airport, pulled our backpacks from the trunk and simply walked up to the terminal, making sure the rotating propellers were a safe distance away. Once there, you have a choice of renting two wheelers or 4-wheel drives. There are also some vans that ply across different parts of the island. We took one of the vans to a local eatery, which was the house of one of the local people. As expected, most dishes consisted of sea-food, the most intriguing of which was conch. We had the local drink: Scotch with coconut milk. The coconut milk has to be fresh or it ferments, thus ruining the taste of the drink. We tried one glass and decided the Medalla, the local beer was better. We camped at Flamenco beach, reputed to be one of the top three beaches in the world. The beach has a very well maintained camp site, which was almost deserted when we went there. It is not uncommon to see wild horses on the island. There is nothing more refreshing than to wake up in the morning to the sound of the ocean, unzip your tent and walk into a breathtakingly beautiful sun rise. We walked on the white sands of the beach, appreciating the green water and eyeing the corals that were within swimming distance. Soon we came across a couple of rusty battle-tanks on the beach. Apparently, these were the targets that were to be destroyed when the Navy conducted its exercises. Certain parts of the island are still cordoned off with fences.

We shared the whole beach with less than 5 other people. A quick breakfast later, we were swimming toward the corals. A few hours later, we were trekking to a beach on the other side of the island. It is like searching for Easter eggs: you walk through the dense vegetation and suddenly there is a beach. You walk some more, and look, one more beautiful beach, this time with corals a few meters away. Every once in a while you will find some other backpacker discovering the island the same way. The Navy has stopped using the island for target practice, and most parts of Culebra, along with its beaches and archipelagos, are protected wild life refuges. The main income source of the island is tourism, mostly domestic. It is very common for mainland Puerto Ricans to jump on a boat and come down to Culebra, enjoy the beach, have a barbeque and simply head on back home. The happening spot of Culebra is the township of Dewey, named after Admiral Dewey of, what else, the US Navy. We went there to have lunch. Dewey is nothing more than a collection of houses with some bars. The docks are a short walking distance away. The place is dead in the afternoons and sees some action at night. We walked around Dewey, talking to some of the local people. A large number of the locals speak English. The population of Culebra is around 1500, and crime is almost unknown. You could leave your bag at any place and simply walk around to enjoy the scenery. On the way back, we waited at the airport for our flight. There was a guy standing next to the ticket counter, cracking jokes and having fun. Turns out, he was our pilot. A Kashmiri gentleman named Babar, who spoke to us in Hindi. What are the chances of meeting a man from the Indian sub-continent on a tiny island of less than 1500 people in the Caribbean? Globalization has truly hit even the remotest part of the world. This trip was a unique experience: the island, its people, its food, and definitely the airplane ride.


A Wanderer story – Around Europe

We would like to share the experience of one of our clients, Rishiraj Singh who has just returned from his holiday around Europe and couldn’t stop raving about the experience he has had.  Here he gives us a detailed account of his journey…

Starting off the tour to the Arctic Circle !!!


Commenced the long jpurney to Helsinki via Franfurt… Slept throughout the plane journey to Frankfurt, only to get soaked in football fever in Germany. Kind of a festival atmosphere at the airport. Ventured out in the 7 hour stopover with Kiran, my wife. Met a Brazilian named Euginia in the subway train to Frankfurt city central. The helpful localite took us to the old city as against her plans to show us around. What a sweet way to start the soujorn !! enjoyed the tranquility of the atmosphere there in, feasting on a fantastic pork pizza and strawberry cake along the way only to end up having yummy pasta on the onward flight to HELSINKI. And now its 11:30 pm here and we can still see daylight and scores of youngsters soaking in the atmosphere. Sitting in a pub called Teerenpeli wherein the Jack Daniels and amazing scenes have helped get over the jet lag!! Not to forget the picturesque Hotel Helka where we are staying … DAY 2 will take us to Rovaniemi.

A Colourful day in HELSINKI …


Helsinki had a lot of surprise in store for us. Instead of booking city tours, we set off on our own for a walk around to the main places in the city. All the key locations were nearby, the market, the station, STOCKMANN- the departmental store for bargain lookers like us and the main attarction – The Senate Square + the Lutheran Cathedral. With green and white decorating the beautiful monument, the Square bore a very lively look. The entire youth brigade with balloons, had descended in thousands on what was a parade. Crossdressers as airhostesses, decorated canines, even a few nude chicks, varied hairstyles, bavarian girls… The coulours were endless and to back it up was live music. A localite called Oulen briefed us on the significance of the party atmosphere. Headed further to the Orthodoxan Cathedral and then to the Esplanade market, studded with souvenirs. Bought some tasty fresh strawberries and even witnessed a Finn wedding. A long walk for 4 hrs and we had seen the heart of the city. Made our way on foot to the station in the evening to head for the Arctic Circle. A cute twin cabin and a cozy bed. Santa here we come…

Rovaniemi – high up in Lapland !!!


Rovaniemi was full of nature which one could come across only in Lapland. Luckily we were there when the Jutajaiset fiestival was on and it was actually the last day – 4th July. A Folklore Festical with World Music… so we had Finnish, Europeans, Africans and Asians amongst the performaers.
Post a quiet soothing walk across the Ounaskaki river which passes through Rovaniemi overlooked by the Ounasvaara peak, we crossed the CANDLE BRIDGE to reach the venue for the festical. Luckily the finale of the evening – a Finnish Band Piirpauke was left and we decided to go for it. Had a kick-ass pizza at Valde – Mari, studded with reindeer meat and then were witness to amongst the best music for a long time. With Ghanians joining the impromptu Jugalbandi with Piirpauke, it just proved one point – music builds relations very strongly. The music still rings in my years. The same day we visited ARKTIKUM – an encyclopedia on the Arctic Circle – quite an experiential tour.
The next 2 days were a wildlife toast, the Ranua Wildlife park which had the polar bears, musk ox, brown bears, wolverines and the snowy owl (finally saw a park without lion, tigers and elephants) and the Reindeer Park Safari which was the actual place where we crossed 66.32 latitude – THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.
The reindeers were against our assumptions extremly noble guys, clean and furry and even WHITE – one in 1000 is white and we saw 2.
But the cheery on the cake was the husky dog Safari, ferocious looking cute canines. The customey visit to the Santa Claus village filled in the itinerary. With Lapland done the definition of Finland was complete – a large forest with a 1000 beautiful lakes and rivers and a few inhabitants. A truly different experience…

Fascinating Tallinn – Estonia !!


The last day in Helsinki was an extensive tour of the city by foot, and studded with loads of shopping – KARLFAZER chocolates are a must and designers clothes if the pocket helps the same. The clothes are bizarre and beautiful at the same time – prove the fact that Helsinki the the WORLD DESIGN CAPITAL. A visit to Soumenlinna – an adjoining Sea Fortress and sipping on coffee at the beautiful cafes therein relaxed us before the coming hectic schedule.
The next day was Tallinn – Estonia and undoubtedly the most picturesque city which we would have ever seen. Surprising to find how beautifully an Old Town has been maintained – complete with Cathedrals, Mosques, passages and culture. Felt a part of History at St. Catherine’s Passage, tried my hand at archery and roamed a lot at the marketplace which was complete with localities in traditional costumes selling traditional wares. Made a pretty sight. Had a stage wherein performances, recitals, fashion shows (dressed up as Russian Czars) rounded up the beauty.
Tallinn made the trip complete. Finished off the first leg of Europe – Finland and Estonia in the traditional Finnish SAUNA – a must do for every tourist in Finland. Relaxing and Unique!!!

Unplanned trip surprises us – SALZBURG …


After a good fulfilling tour of Finland, Munich was a little bit tiring esp as the flight was at 6.55 am. Sort of trudged our way to the hotel and then rested till afternoon. The restlessness of not touring took us over as well as the eagerness to see SALZBURG in AUSTRIA as was recommended by a good friend.
Unplanned, spontaneous and exciting – left the hotel at 3.25 pm, got tickets from Hauptbahnhof at 3.38 and caught the 3.42 train to Salzburg to see something which could match Talinn in all its grandeur. Salzburg Old Town” (Altstadt) with its world famous baroque architecture is one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps and made a picturesque location with its green domes and the castle in the background.
It is the place where “Sound of Music” was shot, the art and culture inclination was visible in every aspect – the Mozarts, the Cathedrals, Riverbanks et all. Saw the Panoramic view of the city from atop the Museum of Modern Art.
On the way back we caught with a Somali student and an Egyptian national in the train and imagine what connected us and got us talking – SHAHRUKH KHAN. They would literally know each and every movie of his with the release year – believe that he connects to their emotions !!!

Atop Germany – Zugspitze !!


10th of July was atop the highest peak in Germany – Zugspitze – laden with snow and giving a great view of 4 countries surrounding it. Was a perfect goodbye to a fantastic tour of Europe.
The evening saw us catch Germany in its fullest as the 3rd place play-off of the FIFA WOrld cup – Germany v Uruguay was on … roaming around Marienplatz we saw all cafes jumping for joy at each goal. A German victory it was to get the entire town on the streets, in cafes, in front of screens. The lit and lively city saw with street performers as well rounded off a long holiday !!! Too many must dos on a tour like this and too diverse a holiday to match …………